Thursday, November 17, 2005

Washington-area home sales were down 18 percent in October, further indication that the recent seller’s market is, indeed, finished.

October should have been different. Every year, October sales are higher than September sales, in a phenomenon known as the “October bounce.” It’s the last decent sales month of the year, because November and December are always the slowest months of the year.

But this year, October didn’t bounce. Sales were even lower than September’s, which weren’t very high to begin with.

Sales fell the most in the Northern Virginia communities of Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria.

Loudoun and Prince William counties also were off by double digits, pulling the Virginia markets down by 25 percent compared to October 2004.

Maryland fared somewhat better, with sales off by 12 percent. But high-priced Montgomery County saw sales fall 18 percent last month.

Some readers have asked if home prices have fallen due to the recent slowdown. That’s a hard question to answer.

For one thing, sales data for a single month can be deceptive, because a handful of high-priced or low-priced homes can skew the figures significantly.

That said, if you compare median prices in October to those in July, a few counties do show a decrease. In Fairfax County, for example, the median sales price was $503,000 in July and $489,000 in October. Does that mean that all the homes in Fairfax lost 3 percent of their value in three months? I don’t think so.

Besides, guess what happens if we look back six months? In April, the median in Fairfax was $458,000. If you look at it that way, home prices in Fairfax rose 7 percent in the past six months. In fact, every single area jurisdiction shows an increase over those six months.

So, are home prices down? Maybe a little, maybe not. Either way, considering that home prices have doubled in the past few years, I don’t think it would be enough to worry about.

• Contact Chris Sicks by e-mail (

The statistics in this story reflect a metropolitan area that includes the Maryland counties of Montgomery, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Howard, Charles and Frederick; the Virginia counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Spotsylvania and Stafford; the city of Alexandria; and the District.

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